In late 2000, The Prince of Port of Spain had a very inconsistent Test series in Australia and even during the Carlton Tri-Series in early 2001, his patchy form continued. Apart from his splendid 182 at Adelaide in the third test match and a scintillating 116 at the SCG in the fourth match of the triangular series, the great Brian Lara never entered the purple patch which adversely affected his team.
All of which perhaps became the perfect time to reminisce a quote that so suited Brian Lara of that time.
“When the occasion arose, he rose to it” is a saying by the American scholar Jonathan Brown. When it comes to great cricketers such as Brian Lara, this quotation is exactly what it implies.
When West Indies arrived in Perth to play their last league match against Zimbabwe, they were on the verge of being eliminated, and Brian had to step up to help the team reach the Best-of-Three Finals.
Perth had been a happy hunting ground for Lara as he always been a tremendous back foot player who loved to cut and pull. Here at the WACA in the last tri-series involving Pakistan, he scored a splendid hundred and a devastating 90 against the home side Australia, which eliminated them from the playoffs.
Even though Zimbabwe was lacking the fearsome attack that could have troubled the West Indian batsmen at the time, they still had some excellent bowlers like Heath Streak and Bryan Strang who were able to thwart their opponents.
In the previous game of the series, left armer Strang dismissed Lara for a duck, so the challenge was there for the Caribbean men, and when the match got underway, the West Indian openers looked all out of their depth against some tight bowling from the Zimbabweans.
With opponents bowling really well, Brian arrived at the crease in a pressure situation, which was not uncommon for him during his illustrious career. As the top order failed again, Brian was left to rebuild the team, but his hamstring injury and scratchy form hindered his stroke play. But he hung in there and rotated the strike to get going, and whenever he got something loose, he grabbed the deliveries to maximise his chances.
As wickets kept falling at the other end, Brian was forced to curtail his aggressive style, but Ricardo Powell gave him some support as he played a cameo that really gave the West Indian Innings some momentum. The West Indies appeared to be taking over the game, but Powell got out, and thereafter, rest of the batsmen showed no enthusiasm to remain with Lara.
His fifty came off 62 deliveries with three fours and it looked like he was getting back to his old self, but his teammates gifted their wickets by running themselves out as there were five run outs in their innings and during the commentary Ian Chappell recalled the 1975 World Cup final when Australia had five run outs.
The West Indies were bowled out for 178 with a couple of overs remaining and the prince could have done serious damage in the last few deliveries, but he was left stranded.
He scored 83 off 98 deliveries, including only six fours, but considering the West Indies had to win this match in order to stay alive in the tournament and no other batsmen contributed anything substantial, this could be considered as one of his most significant ODI innings.
Though, here’s a question- just how often is that knock remembered when summarising the Lara factor and what made him such an asset to the West Indies?
Here’s something few may disagree with. The WACA track of those days was hard and bouncy; seamers who were ready to bend their backs always had an advantage, and with tall fast bowlers like Cameron Cuffy and Nixon McLean, West Indies appeared to have a good opportunity to defend the low total tallied by their batsmen. But then ditto was the case for the Zimbabwean bowling that was mastered by Lara.
The Zimbabwe top order was destroyed by Nixon Mclean’s fast bowling, which included a prize scalp of Andy Flower, and Zimbabwe were unable to recover from there. Although skipper Heath Streak and Dirk Viljoen demonstrated great resilience in the middle overs, Marlon Samuels broke the threatening partnership to turn the match in Windies’ favour.
Though what’s important is to recount that Zimbabwe had capitulated for a meagre 134, giving the West Indies victory by 44 runs, which meant Australia would take on the West Indies in a best-of-three final. They say cricket is a batsman game, especially in ODIS, and to some extent, that might be true, but it is the bowlers who win the matches, and in this match, Windies’ bowlers definitely stepped up when it mattered most.
Lara’s gritty knock of 83 out of 178 gave the bowlers the cushion they needed to defend that total. His crucial knock earned him the honour of being named the man of the match. Had he been out cheaply, the team wouldn’t have posted the respectable total. Once again, this great man showed that he could not be written off, and, in spite of his unbelievable skills and talent, he was resilient enough to save the team in tough times.